Make your own free website on
Marine Transportation and Safety
Ricardo G. Sigua

The Philippines should have a well-developed network of sea and coastal ports considering its archipelagic character. This need is underscored in times of calamity, when the road network gets totally paralyzed and water transport becomes the viable mode. However, the condition of our ports and harbors has steadily deteriorated over the years. Even in the field of safety, mishaps that occurred in recent years give the impression that sea travel in the Philippines remains a risky adventure.

If we look at the state of Philippine vessels, the average age of commercial fishing boats is about 20 years. All passenger ferries are second hand, averaging more than 10 years old. It can also be noted that it is more expensive to ship corn from Mindanao to Manila than to import it from other countries. Small crafts are built from logs, which are a rapidly diminishing resource. Furthermore, naval craft are vintage World War II types.

We also have problems with regard to our shipbuilding industry. Local ship owners prefer imported secondhand vessels over locally-made ships. Shipbuilders have to import ship parts and engines, thus high building costs. Furthermore, there is lack of qualified skills for shipbuilding, with most shipyard personnel only semi-skilled and needing on-the job training. Shipyards lack even the simplest machines or have outmoded or poorly maintained ones.

On maritime safety, the Philippines has the world record on deaths at sea. A study of Japan’s Maritime International Cooperation Center in 1989 noted that in the Philippines, maritime casualties involve basically small wooden-hulled vessels, such as motor bancas, motor launches, motorboats and fishing boats. Although there are accidents involving large vessels, most casualties are related to small vessels. There were instances of sinking and capsizing as well as collisions, groundings, and missing ships. Accidents occurred most frequently during the typhoon season.

A 1990 report of the International Maritime Organization gave some recommendations with regard to institutions as well as how to reduce accidents and disasters in our waters. Maritime safety administration in our country is very complicated. There are a number of agencies involved in safety and there are conflicts and duplication in their duties and responsibilities.

Current maritime regulations as contained in the Philippine rules and regulations for merchant ships were considered inappropriate for the local type of interisland travel. On operational hazards, there are two major reasons: perennial overloading of passengers, particularly in the Christmas season and the start of school terms; and carriage and handling of dangerous cargoes.

Therefore, there are major sea safety issues that need to be addressed. First, the unclear delineation of governmental functions regarding maritime safety. Second, the industry operates within a framework of maritime safety regulations which are not only outdated but also inapplicable in some respects. And third, the safety of navigation is imperilled by the sore inadequacy of aids to navigation such as light houses, search and rescue capability, vessel traffic control system, and weather forecasting and information dissemination.

Such issues are aggravated by the lack of crew members whom the domestic shipowners and operators are losing to the more lucrative overseas trade. While there are more Filipinos than any other nationalities manning the world’s merchant marine fleet, our country lacks skilled seafarers because domestic salary rates cannot compete with overseas rates.

The University of the Philippines can be at the forefront of developing fields of studies related to Marine Transportation. These are naval architecture which is about shipbuilding; ocean engineering or offshore engineering which covers the study of energy from waves; and coastal engineering which is involved with ports, harbors, shore protection, and developments related to coastal infrastructure.